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February 24, 2013

Hokies Snap Skid, Down Noles 80-70

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Finally, mercifully, the losing is over for Virginia Tech.

Using an uncommon calm and cool at the free throw line own the stretch, the Hokies snapped a nine-game skid knocking off visiting Florida State 80-70.

"To get a win, it's definitely a relief and it definitely tells a lot about this team, how they kept on grinding, kept on grinding," coach James Johnson said. "Tonight, it wasn't easy. None of these wins are gonna be easy."

Senior guard Erick Green again had his customary scoring knack, with 26 points, but there was help this time. His teammates couldn't miss at the free throw line in the final minutes of the game, hitting 16 free throws in a row.

"I'm not surprised at all," Green said. "I've always seen what they can do in practice and I knew it was gonna happen. They just had to hit. They've been in some slumps, but everybody recovers from slumps."

A win was also possible with a bit of shuffling to start. With a different lineup, Virginia Tech found a bit more energy to start. Sophomore walk-on guard Will Johnston and sophomore guard Marquis Rankin got the start for junior Jarell Eddie and sophomore guard Robert Brown.

The Hokies used a 6-0 run to take a 9-6 lead at the 14:38 mark. But the Seminoles responded with a 10-2 run of their own.

With 7:41 left in the opening half, Brown made his first appearance of the game and provided an instant jolt. He hit his first three shots, including a runner on a drive from the top of the key for six points. Shortly after, a technical foul on Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton gave Virginia Tech and a sparse Cassell Coliseum crowd a bit more excitement.

Green hit the ensuing free throws and a layup by sophomore walk-on forward Christian Beyer put the Hokies up 23-21 with 2:36 left in the half. Virginia Tech held on for a 26-23 lead at halftime, buoyed by eight Seminoles turnovers, five coming by steals.

Though he started the game, Rankin didn't play in the second half. Johnson said he vomited in the locker room at halftime and his status is uncertain.

The Hokies though, continued their momentum to start the second half, as sophomore forward C.J. Barksdale finished a strong dunk, was fouled and hit the ensuing free throw. A three-pointer by Rankin put Virginia Tech up 34-27 and forced a Florida State timeout with 17:12 left. A three-pointer on the Hokies' ensuing possession pushed the lead to 37-27.

Brown then showed he might be making long-awaited progress on his long slump, nailing a three-pointer from the left corner for a 42-29 advantage. In the 14-3 run to start the second half, no points were scored by Green.

"He came in after sitting for a while and not playing as well on the offensive end as he's capable of playing, for him to come in and stay aggressive, that's something I talk to him about all the time," Johnson said. "You've gotta stay aggressive. If things aren't going well for you, as long as they're good shots, you've gotta stay aggressive. He came in the game, under control."

The lead was cut to 49-45 after a pair of three-pointers from Seminoles freshman guard Devon Bookert. But a layup, free throw on the foul and another jumper on the ensuing possession by Green pushed the lead to 58-49 with 6:19 to play.

"Just seeing when the guys shots are falling, I wanted to get them more involved, find them and get their confidence going," Green said. "I've got a great team. I love these guys and they started really playing and coming along here. I think this is finally clicking for us and hopefully we'll get on a roll."

With 2:37 to go, Florida State began fouling, in hopes of a Hokies miss. But the long-suffering home team was cool and collected, hitting 18-of-20 free throws down the stretch to hold on to the lead and the long-awaited victory.

As impressive as the free throw line shooting was, there was more that hadn't previously been done. Barksdale, who connected on 9-of-11 free throws for the game, said there was better preparation.

"The biggest thing is we focused in on the scouting report," Barksdale said. "I feel like a lot of the downfall in our losses was paying attention to the scouting report. We came out here, executed it well."

After remaining in a slump for the past two months, Brown finished the game with 11 points on a respectable 4-of-8 shooting from the floor.

Virginia Tech travels to Miami for a 7 pm tip-off Wednesday, with four games total to play until the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, NC.

"I don't know if it's exhale, I think we're gonna continue this same approach," Johnson said. "We're coming in tomorrow, we're gonna watch film, have some individual edits, watch the film and learn from this and move on to the next one.

"Winning is good and we needed it, but we've gotta continue to move on. There's still time left in the season and we're keep fighting and getting better as long as we have time."



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